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CSOs bemoan destruction of Cleveland Wetland Catchment area

A Wetland

Community Water Alliance (CWA), Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), and Cleveland Action Alliance (CAA) have lamented the current destruction of the Cleveland Dam Wetland Catchment area due to construction activities of houses and buildings on the site.

The organisations highlighted that it was worrisome that the construction of houses on the wetland was happening as the nation heads towards the rain season where disaster preparedness activities are required to avoid a repeat of 2020 flooding of homes.

Cleveland Dam Wetland Catchment area is protected by international law under the Ramsar Convention to which Zimbabwe is a signatory. The CSOs are disturbed by the continued construction activities despite the fact that an Environmental Protection Order was issued to the developer by the Environmental Management Agency.

Within this context, Cleveland Wetland is under threat after surviving an invasion by former Minister of Finance, Terrence Mukupe in 2018.

In a statement, CWA and CHRA said, “We organisations here present, united as a coalition working towards wetlands preservation in the Harare Metropolitan Province, we are concerned by the construction of houses and a vocational centre at Cleveland wetland/catchment area and concerned that the construction will adversely affect water delivery and disaster preparedness plans against flooding as we head towards the 2021-2022 rain season.

“The Environmental Management Agency recently gazetted wetland maps for Provinces. The Maps which are policy documents guide spatial planning by Government from the national level to the local authority level and we are outraged by the disregard of the newly gazetted Harare wetlands map,” the statement reads.

They also highlighted that they were acknowledging people’s inalienable right to life, to clean water and a clean environment as provided for in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe as well as the role wetlands play in water delivery and climate change resilience.

The destruction of wetlands through the construction of buildings in Harare Metropolitan Province remains one of the contributors to the water challenges bedeviling Harare and the flooding of homes that rocked Harare in past years.

“The evidence of the past is clear that people whose houses are built on wetlands have been experiencing perpetual flooding in their homes every rainy season, hence allowing construction of houses in any wetland is a recipe for disaster. In relation to the disaster posed by the construction of houses in wetlands, we view that this will burden already depleted local authorities and national budgets.

“We are worried that the property developer at Cleveland Wetland was issued an Environmental Protection Order by EMA but still continued to disregard the order.”

 

The CSOs feel events at Cleveland Catchment Area reflect the current wave of destruction of wetlands at the national level and the gap that exists between policy and practice on the protection of water sources and ecologically sensitive areas in the country.

During the organisations’ routine engagements with relevant authorities on the urgency to protect wetlands from the construction of buildings, illegal urban agriculture, and sand poaching, CWA and CHRA said they were not happy to notice that responsible authorities were not making efforts to curb the disturbing activities.

“We are disappointed that the authorities have not taken decisive action to halt this unfortunate situation.

“What is more worrying is that we are heading towards the rain season and the weather forecasts the Metrological Services Department shows that Harare is likely to get above normal rainfall, the same prediction that happened last rainy season and we got serious flooding of houses constructed on wetlands.”

They indicated that the construction of buildings on wetlands was at the heart of water challenges and flooding disasters hitting local authorities.

“The water supply situation in Harare remains dire. The City is producing 417 megalitres per day, 60 percent of which is unaccounted for water. The agenda of wetlands preservation remains urgent. There seems to be no clear plan to use the Harare Wetlands Map to guide spatial planning in Harare metropolitan Province.”

As a way of trying to protect the wetlands, the organisations have implored the government to urgently ensure that Harare Wetlands Map guide spatial planning in Harare metropolitan Province.

They also stated that any public official both elected and non-elected, who promote, support , sustain or catalyze destruction of wetlands was not fit to hold public office and he or she is a theat to water security.

Making recommendations, CWA and CHRA emphasised the need for improved coordination among government departments, agencies and local authorities on environmental water management plans.

“We thus make the following demands as Combined Harare Residents and Community Water Alliance. The newly developed Harare wetlands map should guide spatial planning within Harare metropolitan Province. Government must respect international treaties, domestic laws, and policies by immediately stopping construction activities currently underway in the Cleveland Wetland Catchment area.

“There is need for full implementation of devolution as provided by chapter 14 of the Constitution and allow citizens to have a voice on the management of natural resources within their local areas.”

They said the Government and local authorities must not allow any further land grabs or invasions of any wetland to safeguard the abuse of regularization of provisions in the Regional Town Planning Act by politically connected land barons.

The CSOs stressed the need to scale up the wetlands agenda through the establishment of a National Wetlands Coordination Forum and 10 Provincial Wetlands Coordination Forums in view of devolution.

Political parties in Zimbabwe have been urged to come up with comprehensive and robust climate change policies that will include wetlands protection in their election manifestos ahead of the 2023 elections

Local authorities ought to come up with enforceable climate change that recognizes wetlands protection as part of their resilience strategy.

“As an emerging nucleus of a Coalition on Wetland Protection we intend to take legal action against the current developments in the Cleveland Catchment Wetland Catchment area and other areas, rachet a campaign on organizing and mobilization of citizens to take charge of their wetlands within their local areas,” they added.

CWA and CHRA said they are committed to complementing and supporting local authorities and government efforts in the Protection of Wetlands and to conducting an information blitz campaign that includes naming and shaming people involved in wetlands destruction.

In another statement, CAA said, “As Cleveland Action Alliance we are worried by the developments in the Cleveland catchment area which is a Ramsar site and source of water for Cleveland Dam and Lake Chivero.

“As a board that represents interests of Mabvuku residents especially Ward 19 and 21 which have gone for almost three decades, without tap water from the council, building on a wetland is totally unacceptable as it further depletes water sources.

“We have engaged EMA Agency seeking if an Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate has been issued for the project, it is depressing that tan EIA for the project has not been done.

“The continued destruction of wetlands must be stopped. Government and local authorities must realise that water does not come from a dam but water sources such as wetlands. We call upon the immediate halting of the development. We expect Government through its various agencies such as EMA and Upper Manyame Sub Catchment Council to take part in the protection of the Cleveland Catchment area,” said CAA.

Additionally, CAA pointed out that they believe that wetland management can only be effective through stewardship and respect of processes and procedures relating to construction or development.

“We join our colleagues whom we share the panel with today on the fight against the destruction of wetlands. We will embark on a serious mobilization of citizens of Mabvuku to stand against this illegal development.”

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende